When undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin return to their main library this fall, they won’t be thumbing through rows of books resting on shelves. Instead, at the refurbished Flawn Academic Center, they’ll plug in and log on: Flawn was recently emptied of its 90,000 volumes of printed text, with the books moved to other libraries across the campus. And odd as a book-less library may seem, UT Austin isn’t the only undergraduate institution adopting such a model. In undergrad libraries across the country, colleges and universities are going digital in hopes of keeping today’s students—who are more comfortable using the Internet than the card catalogue for their academic needs—coming through the doors.
As someone who spends more time sifting through news and commentary on the internet than perusing my morning newspaper (which I barely spend ten minutes with these days--I'm about ready to cancel my subscription), I understand the move. As someone who uses the internet for research because library books on the subjects I want are rarely current enough to suit me, I understand the move. And as someone who will look up a quote on the internet because I can find it faster that way than hunting up a dusty book on my shelf and paging through it, I understand the move.
But as a lover of print books, I'm sad. I appreciate having a choice between print books and the internet; I know I can always snuggle up on my sofa with a nice, friendly book on my lap. But the distinct possibility that a large portion of our next generation will never be exposed to books bothers me a lot.
A few decades from now, will somebody start a back-to-paper movement?